Charlie

one spring day,
not this one,
i took sweet Charlie to the vet
for the last time;
a small thing
we all do,
eventually,

she was special,
my Charlie,
who arrived to a Bad Marriage
and was Love incarnate,
letting toddlers pull her lips
and try to ride her…
so loved we got a second dog,
her younger sister…
running away in her older years
because she was deaf
and my voice no longer
penetrated her obsession
with food,

and then,
then…
old, and sick,
she was caught in the middle
of The End,

a marriage marinated in alcohol
battles for custody
manipulations grand and microscopic
and one little dog,
rheumy-eyed and stinking,
slowly dying,

until that day,
four-year-old crying
“mama kicks Charlie”
the usual denials,
the lack of proof,
my heart,
shattered,

i remembered all the times
in denial,
i had heard X muttering drunkenly
in the kitchen,
“i hate these damn dogs”
Charlie, as ever,
underfoot when food was at hand,

Charlie’s sister died of cancer;
a long process
of peeing blood and incontinence
doggy diapers
specialist visits
iv’s and needle aspirations
painful and, in the end
for nothing,

then, one year later,
in the middle of a war zone
Charlie started peeing blood
she became incontinent
“mama kicks Charlie,”
a small voice telling
a big truth,

when my week came
i took my little boys in my arms
and told them Charlie was sick
and soon would go to see her sister
they cried
they accepted
as children do,

i split my heart in two
one half strong and capable,
taking my sweet Charlie one last time
to the park,
the other half climbing a high tower
in an unfamiliar castle,
searching for a way
to survive,

i found a homing pigeon,
waiting atop the tower,
head cocked in perpetual question,
eye blinking at me

i had never sent a message
by pigeon,
but this pigeon seemed capable enough
so i pulled a red crayon from my pocket
and drew half a heart
on a bit of gum wrapper,
rolled it into a tiny scroll,
and placed it on the castle wall,

the pigeon took my burden
and spoke to me,
which also did not seem strange,
“i will find you in the future,
and bring your message home”

with the relief of feeling only half the pain,
Charlie and i made the final journey
where i dropped her off at the door
and did not accompany her
just a quick kiss,
and “see you later my little love,”
knowing i would not,

time passed
the divorce was finalized
life moved on
became more stable
the kids became happier,
and by some miracle
i found love,

perhaps it is five years to the day
but my mind won’t remember it
so i couldn’t say for sure
but last night,
i awoke to the sound of tapping,
and there was the pigeon,
head cocked,
waiting at my window,

she had come home to roost
bearing my broken heart
across time,
writ in crayon
on old gum wrapper
precious only to me,
i took the message in shaking hands
and cried,
feeling the full weight of guilt
and regret,
why had i not gone with Charlie,
to the end?

i understood at last
that survival sometimes requires
imperfect solutions;
Charlie, stoic as she was,
would forgive me,
and at some point,
soon,
i will forgive myself.

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frozen

today my chest tightens
meditation fails
anticipation like ice
creaks into blood and bones,
a meeting;
my gifted child
at five
contemplates the face
of god
at eight it’s punnett squares
for bedtime chatter,
so today, today
i will sit across from her,
the one who left,
the charismatic liar
the drinker
who stole more
than money
and discuss this child
and she will smile,
call me by an old, old
lover’s name
and pretend
like always,
to be human

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locked

empty windows
stare blankly
at the photographer
as she shivers, waiting
for the stroller brigade
to move out of her shot;
she wants to capture the perfect quiet
of a thousand locks
clinging eternally,
many having outlasted
the original sentiment;
she wonders where the tribute
to broken locks hides,
but today,
love is beautiful

IMG_2757

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Missing

some journeys begin slowly, tentatively,
one toe inching across a border
unsure of the terrain

not this one
it was immediate
the friend-of-a-friend
(they kissed once, did you hear?)
appeared
joined
became one of us,
peeing in the woods up at that campground
with all the nuclear
families
whispering
shhhh,

and more than that,
she became one of mine;
the precious few I cleave to,
drop everything for,
invite over when my baby is a day old
and my body hurts
and I can’t feel the joy yet
because I am in a Bad Marriage
but she has fed me
and made me laugh
and been my anchor

she told me of moving from house to house,
being a peacekeeping nomad child
in a sometimes happy childhood
not quite unaware
of the war waging about her,
“did you know,” she would say,
running her finger around the rim of her glass,
“that my name was chosen in revenge,
because my father hated it,
and he left my pregnant mother
for her best friend, who lived across the street?”
she knew this,
that she was supposed to be a weapon,
so, whether in rebellion,
or because she had no other choice,
she became incapable of fighting,
pathologically peaceful and agreeable;
she became a counselor,
and, by a lucky turn,
kissed her neighbour,
who also kissed my wife,
and this is how I came to meet my
once-upon-a-time friend
with the weaponized name,
a tendency to lateness and forgetfulness,
a heart bigger that anything
and the most beautiful drunken singing voice,
ever

if I rewind far enough,
I find a few years, in the beginning,
when we were both happy,
simultaneously,

she saw how my wife was fun and charismatic
and drank more than the rest of us
and didn’t work, and put me down
while praising me,

I saw how her wife
worked hard, and wasn’t that fun,
but sure could be mean when she felt like it,
and how my friend, just like me,
smiled, and moved the conversation
along,

we kept each other’s secret;
that keeping peace
was exhausting,
that really,
we were broken,
cracked into a thousand shiny pieces
always picking up bits,
and handing them back to one another,
“here you go sweetie,
you dropped this,”

when her sister got married,
and she left the wedding in tears,
the homophobia finally too much,
I met her on my porch at 2 am
in my pjs with a cup of tea,
she in her bridesmaid’s dress,
mascara running down her face,
and we laughed into the low-rent
east end
night

when my second baby was born
and I wandered aimlessly about my house
puke-bucket in hand,
not sure what to do,
my friend would show up
when my wife was at the bar,
make me tea,
and tell me
“you got this, honey,
you’ve done it before,
you’re strong,
you’re a good mom,
keep on”

when her baby was born
my life was a mess;
we began to drift,
not apart, exactly,
but into fragments,
parcels of time perpetually interrupted
by our three small people,
conversations unfinished,
and only now,
at this moment,
do I understand;

we were,
neither of us,
whole
to begin with
and parenting required
full-time
damage control

we put on our big-girl pants
went to work
managed life with grace
and a smile,
exactly as we were raised to do

my marriage fell apart first
and my good friend was there,
in the shadows,
helping when she could,
but mostly,
because life was crazy then,
I was alone

then her marriage fell apart
in a grand finale
of domestic violence,
that turned out to be
not the end,
but a pit-stop

I tried to be there,
to help her plan her exit strategy,
and promised not to call CAS,
even though her daughter
saw everything
her daughter
saw
her mother
beaten

but she was leaving,
had left already,
was only going back to get some things…

“please, please, don’t call,”
she begged,
and I listened,
she didn’t want her wife to be fired,
they needed the money,
would need the money,
for the divorce,

I didn’t call
and she went back
and that was that
the end of us,
diverging into the one who stayed
and the one who got away,
and I think of her
every
single
day

with hope

1sagefemme All Rights Reserved 2016

Part 2: Daddy

Rewind:

Sifting sifting through the muck
for signs of love
i find you, Daddy,
in bed on a Saturday morning
two little ones wrapped around your torso
i am the one clinging to your shoulder
jeffrey is trying to ride you,
you snort and whinny
toss him high
screeching with laughter.

Fade…
hopping over egg-shells
through mud and worms,
falling into a stormy sea
and you
you are a buoy
we cling to
marking the perimeter
of sanity
but you are a slippery savior
one minute solid,
the next shadow in mist
and then gone
and we four splashing, cling solemnly, uncrying
best we can
to childhood.

I channel you
singing softly to my babies at night
rub their ear lobes gently to wake them,
as you did,
they call me Mommy,
and gaze up at me full of hope and love,
but I am more you than her.

You were beaten down by her too
monster-mouth mother wife
she made you dumb
you gave up the fight
but here’s the thing, Daddy

You did not protect us

And I understand,
because my babies
are in a stormy sea
and I am their bouy,
though they don’t yet know it,
and every other Wednesday
I abandon them,
And I understand now
that sometimes it is out of our hands.

1Sagefemme All Rights reserved 2016

Miss you

Today I miss you
Heavily,
Chest-deep
Scrambling best I can
Up this muddy mountain
Of regret.
It’s taking effort
To move my mind through the exercise
Of cleansing and renewal
Burning mental sage
Scorching my
Bonfire belly
Choking on smoky tendrils
As they billow upward
Carrying my incantation
To be free
Of the scent of you,
The image of your
Parted lips
Your sigh and the taste of raw
Humanity
To be free
Of your arms
Surrounding my dreams,
To be free of the want,
The dangerous longing
The liars memories
The gut-deep sensation
Of missing
You.

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Sunday

Good morning Sunday!
Want to hang out in bed with me today?
We could read that stack of books
lying tantalizingly on the bedside table,
pages spread uninhibited, expectant…
Did you conspire with the puppy
to lick my face awake, excited like you haven’t seen me in a week?
Ah, the guilt.
My mom friends are already texting,
up and running after their small people,
no question of canoodling with you,
but here is the silver lining of divorce,
Sunday,
every other week we have this tryst,
and I have come to love you
again,
like when we were little and used to
hide in the basement and play
peekaboo with Dad…
And then,
remember university?
You would wrap me in a warm blanket
and whisper
“no more peach schnapps, kiddo.”
And when my firstborn came along,
that bright and pungent baby who never slept but sure could scream,
you tried to sneak away,
don’t pretend you didn’t.
You were an asshole like the rest of days then,
you acted like Monday,
but now I see it wasn’t really your fault.
Babies just don’t have any respect
for order, time, sleep,
and don’t feel bad,
Sunday,
I didn’t really notice you leave…
I was so in love, so enamoured
with that little wailing life,
that the whole world caved in;
I was so in love with that baby,
that another seemed a great idea…
A second one,
bright and pungent,
less wailing with this one,
but maybe that was me
I was an experienced mother then.
I was rosy and ignorant
of time outside the cave,
self-important like
I was the only one who ever gave birth,
And of course,
Sunday,
you know I work outside the cave
so how could we have met back then?
But today,
I see that you didn’t run off after all;
you have been waiting patiently
in the wings
all this time.

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notes to my sons

Children

October 19th, 2014

I search the horizon,
Scanning northeast past
the Don Valley,
See two red lights marking a hill
In the general direction of you
My boys
It is Sunday morning
4am
You are 26 km away
From where I sleep tonight;
The fastest route up the Parkway
Zipping eastward on the 401
A quick jaunt south on McCowen
I could perhaps sneak in
And creep to your bedsides
Rub your sweaty hair
And whisper in your ears
“Mommy loves you”
I hope your dreams are sweet,
Your souls resting free
Of the despair I feel
Knowing that you might need me
And I cannot be there.
My children,
I wish you the self-centred joy
Of a happy childhood
Untethered by longing and regret.
I will her to be good enough
To love you as I do,
To put your needs before her own
To put down the vodka
To really work to support you
To be the parent you need her to be.
But even then, I know
That one day you will see
What now you are too young to know.
And I hope you will forgive me
For being forced into this split life;
I hope this way is best for you
Though it breaks my heart.
I feel you tonight
Plain as if you were calling me
From the other room.
I want you to know
When you call,
My heart hears
But I cannot respond
Except with these words:
My children
I love you
To the far reaches
Of the very last star
And back.
I will love you always
And forever,
From the moment you first took shape in my womb
Until my last breath on this earth
And into the unknown beyond
Your joy is my joy
Your pain is my pain
You are so special
My gifts to the world
My boys.

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Fury

Here I sit with this shit
In the pit of my soul
Over-wound, vibrating,
Break or stay whole?

Safety’s off and I’m cocked
And I’ll scream ’til I’m heard
With a mouth full of fire
And a pen and a word.

Hope the words that I choose
Will carry me through
This treacherous journey
Between me and you.

What word, what sentence,
What fucking phrase
Will free me and see me
Out of this maze?

Is the word “love,”
Or “laughter,” or “loss?”
Should I stare down the tank
Whatever the cost?

And are you the tank,
Or a soldier at play?
Or a woman or victim
of life in some way?

I’m fully loaded
And ready to fight
So kick me and bite me
And scream in the night
And you’ll find me still staring
Into your gun
Repeating my truth
Until I am done.

You are a fraud,
Not a victim of life;
You cut your own flesh
With a liar’s knife.

And the pain that you feel
Soothes your unquiet soul,
But you’re weak and you’re vengeful
And nowhere near whole.

You drink ’til you think
That your stories are true
That the car wrecked itself
and in fact I owe you.

But the kids know your coffee
Is really red wine
You hide vodka in boots
And no, it’s not “fine.”

You won’t work, you can’t parent
But you lie cheat and steal;
What the fuck are you thinking?
This wasn’t our deal.

So I’m done with this dance,
With this fight with this life
With bandaging bullshit
With being your wife.

If you cut yourself now
You can bandage yourself,
I was never a nurse
And you don’t need my help.

Safety’s off and I’m cocked
And I’ll scream ’til I’m heard
With a mouth full of fire
And a pen and a word.

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